Movies about hackers have often untwisted some obnoxious truths. The 2014 documentary Citizenfour saw Laura Poitras investigate the incredible story of Edward Snowden, winning the Best Documentary Feature at the 87th Academy Awards. With Enemies of the State, director Sonia Kennebeck takes up a docu-thriller approach to look into the strange chain of events that unraveled when Matt DeHart – an alleged hacker and whistleblower was charged, tortured, and framed by the FBI.
The film opens with the real Matt DeHart and his parents fleeing the states. The family first escapes through the Mexican border and then later to Canada as time passes and more revelations were made about DeHart’s allegations. The documentary traces the happenings in a truly random manner. Representing the facts as they appeared back when the hacktivist was first accused of possessing and grooming young children into child pornography in 2009. Of course, we also see the flip side of the scene as DeHart and his family accuse the government of framing him as he possessed classified information about the US government. Something that could bring them to shame.
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The film really works wonders when it shows how the lack of transparency shown by a government can truly result in something that can only be conspired into nastier truths. The reason why a local case becomes an international story and possibly everyone involved gets the limelight makes the film more unnerving than the actual shape of events it constitutes of. Enemies of the State thus becomes a puzzling piece that is just waiting to be cluttered back, only if you can rely on the one’s narrating it.
With Enemies of the State, Kennebeck uses a strange narrative choice of using real-life footage and audio tapes with a fictional representation accompanying them. In doing so, she digs up some truly bizarre things. DeHart and his family – his mother and father are shown as these truly ‘American’ citizens who have abided by the country’s proud regime. The fact that they turn against the country and support their child no matter what gives the documentary a morally ambiguous point of view. Making it an interesting back and forth of wits.
Moreover, this is a truly upsetting state that the film also dives into how conspiracy theories are born and how the media (including social media) channels out a simple case into so many different directions that everything becomes political at some point in time. The way the documentary pits DeHart as either a pedophile or an activist who is truly onto something forms the crux of this disturbing and shocking event reportage.
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In a metaphorical sense, the two situations in which the case and the documentary feels divided can be taken up as the right-wing and left-wing perspective. Rationally speaking, both of them seem wobbly and confusing because the truth never stands on either of the sides. The constant twist and turns of events do keep the viewers on the edge but after a point of time, the messaging here feels hearsay and something that fails to make you feel unsettled by the truly odd results over the cases’ proceedings.
Enemies of the State feels like a non-linear fictional drama that forces you into confusing the truth to a point where you simply don’t care for what the final say would be. The fact that director Sonia Kennebeck fails to keep all of the cards close to her chest makes this less of a memorable experience than it could have been. The interviews with lawyers, the public, reporters, and everyone else following the case actually represents the state of the audience who is also left with as much bewilderment as they signed up for. Making this a documentary that is still worth recommending for what it is.
‘ENEMIES OF THE STATE’ WAS SCREENED AT THE 2020 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
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DIRECTOR: Sonia Kennebeck
CAST: Joel Widman, Nemo Baletic, Christopher Clark
RUNTIME: 103 MIN
LINKS: TIFF, IMDB